duck duck pig

IMG_4986Thinking about bodies, and the soft flesh and puzzle of bones that enable us to stand, walk, smile, bend, wave hello, and say goodbye.

The first time I broke down a duck, I marveled at the difference between its structure and that of a chicken: the longer body, slenderer breasts, little drums.  This time, at Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective‘s duck and pig butchery classes in Eugene last weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about the structures we share with the pig.  No, not in the sense that I could never eat an animal with a face or a clavicle or whathaveyou, but rather this unshakeable feeling of being part of the universe, a community of matter.  I can’t get over the metaphysical sense, lately, strangely, insistently, of the impermeability of bodies, of all things, and the wheel of fortune that spins these molecules into personhood, those into livestock, and yet others into mosquito netting or Prada clutches or a turnip or cat’s breath or frost. Why don’t we all just dissolve into the ether?

No, I haven’t been taking more drugs.  Thanks for asking.

Ever more firmly I believe I can’t eat meat without knowing more about how the process works, but my awe and respect for the workings of a creature, our very distinct matter, is kind of overtaking me right now.  I’ve spent an entire year completely (and utterly nonconsensually) focused on broken bodies and death, on dissolution and transformation, so to take part in the slow, careful, respectful craft of turning life into food is quite profound and healing for me.  Meat, somehow, even more so.

We broke down a pig and a half, totaling about 400 lbs. of meat, and a duck apiece, then we learned how to make some cured products, including bacon, rillettes, and duck liver mousse and prosciutto.

IMG_3547IMG_5029 The classes were wonderful, made even better by the gorgeous facility and commercial kitchen at Sprout! where the Springfield farmers market takes place on Fridays.  We were able to take home the meat we broke down, which added yet more value. The Master Food Preservers helped with the class prep and clean-up, and we had a great group of farmers, restaurateurs, home cooks, and teachers who eagerly participated.  Although someone confessed that she was initially nervous about sharing a table with me at the duck class, I laid that to rest quickly with my slow hands and jerky knife skills.  (Any mystique I might have held as a food guru was soon dashed as my knife slipped around a joint, the duck popped, and I sent a bowl of curing spiced salt flying across the room.)

Not only does one learn how the body works, and that you can actually do most of the butchery with a big knife and a small knife (and a hacksaw for the rest), but Camas teaches about cuts that we don’t really use commercially in the U.S.  I’m now on a campaign against loins.  No, sorry, the religious right shouldn’t get too excited — it’s a campaign against the soft, mild cuts that privilege the loin parts of the pig.  I’ve always been a big fan of the shoulder, but now I see even more possibilities for flavorful cuts of pig meat, thanks to the class.

Now I’m hungry.  Check out the full set of photos for both classes on my Facebook page.  If you’re local, you might want to follow me on Facebook while you’re there — I accept all friend requests and post local events and happenings there much more frequently than I do on the blog, which has more of a national readership.

And by all means, take one of Camas’ classes. She promised to come back to Eugene, and we promise to love it when she does!

kale choices: fizz, red russian, lacinato, blue scotch, or western front?

IMG_5070Dispatch from the land of kale:  have you started your winter garden?  The cool kids (i.e., not me) are planning already, but I’ve been happily monitoring the spread of better, more tender varieties of kale. For kale, you see, should go in now, as should many of the crucifers.  Consider taking a winter gardening class if you see one in your area, and if you are fortunate enough to live in the Willamette Valley or the maritime PNW, download Adaptive Seeds’ maestro farmer Andrew Still’s comprehensive chart of Willamette winter gardening.

As for me, I’m still working on fighting the aphids on my spring kale.  I planted ‘Fizz’ this spring, which is great, but I still like my favorite ‘White Russian’ a little better because I love the slightly sweet taste and larger array of ruffled leaves.  ‘Fizz’ and other varieties are available (above) at Gray’s, and you can buy a bunch of ‘White Russian’ to sample from Ruby and Amber’s Organic Oasis at the Lane County farmers market, or at least you could last year.

What kale varieties have worked for you?

 

the juices of june

IMG_3534My hands are Oregon hands, stained wine-dark with the juices of June. My arms, too, are speckled with red, but that’s my own blood from being stuck, a reminder of the thorns that accompany the best pleasures.  On my t-shirt there’s a mix of berries and blood.  The juices of June.

Within moments of returning home, I was in the garden picking handfuls of raspberries and black raspberries.  I didn’t need a bowl, not where those berries were going.  My right hand man gave me fingers to pluck; my left was bowl and scoop.  As soon as I filled up my primal vessel I did as the cavemen (in Oregon? Sure — poetic license), yes, the cavemen did: stuffed the entire handful in my mouth.

Because I can.

My lust for these berries won’t be sated for another month.  I planted another row last year, and it’s still not even remotely enough.  I’ll u-pick them, buy flats at the market, buy flats at the farm, buy them in restaurants and pick them at friends’ places.

It’s gluttony, I know, and thanks to teaching the Professeur, M. Brillat-Savarin, for so many years now, I know the difference between the gourmand — the delicately attuned lover of food with a capacious palate and appetite for the finest and most appropriate foods for his class — and me, the glutton.  It doesn’t matter where and how when it comes to raspberries, I just want to stuff my face with them.  Even when I lived in California, I’d buy those horrible cellpaks of ‘Willamettes,’ which are harder and larger than some of the other Oregon varieties of raspberries so we trade them to our neighbor to the south for their inedible monster “strawberries.”  But unlike the strawberries, I’d buy those horrible cellpaks with their nasty kleenex pad and eat raspberries all in one sitting, just so I could take some edge off the craving.

Here in Oregon, I can eat the soft ones and the sweet ones, the acidic ones and the monstrous ones, the golden ones, the dark ones and the pink ones and the warm ones bright in the sun.  We have a month of fresh raspberries ahead.  I like raspberries far more than strawberries, which are delicious but always seemed a little obvious to me, kind of like a sweet plump girl who means no harm and doesn’t quite get the jokes.  They have a dumb-looking bonnet and they get turned into cartoons.  Raspberries, on the other hand, lent their name to that gross gesture of blowing spitty air out of your mouth.  Raspberries have a bit of punk in them.

And if raspberries have an edge, black raspberries are rude boys.  Raspberries I always knew, but I remember very well the first time I spotted black raspberries under the stairs leading down to my grandfather’s dock in northern Michigan.  I’m not sure how old I was, but I must have been close to the ground, even though those steps were steep.  Anyway, they were feral and growing through the stairs to scratch the legs of little girls.  I had to eat them.  I knew I’d get pricked and didn’t know if they were poison or not, but they were glossy and becoming and beckoning.

My parents weren’t in sight, and my grandfather was busy gutting fish down the dock.  He held a chinook aloft and showed me the egg sac.

“You see this? Rich people pay good money for these fish eggs,” and with a snort he dumped it all with the guts in the bucket.

Rich people, thought I, would pay me good money for these shiny berry eggs.  So I’m going to taste them.  And when I did and their wild dark tart sweet seedy little bits entered my mouth for the first time, I realized some things were too precious to be sold to rich people.  My black raspberry empire thus ended where it began, in Manistee, Michigan.

Now I grow them and I still don’t have enough, but I know I’m the luckiest girl in the world for just one second in June when I collect them by the handful and take that very first mouthful, unadorned.  I close my eyes and am grateful, hardly possibly, for another year.

culinaria eugenius in the southwest: red or green?

IMG_4894In many ways, Durango, Colorado — one of the four corners that make up the intersection of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah nestled in the Colorado Plateau — is like Eugene.

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Hippie foods at the co-op
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Can’t tell if liquor store signs are inside joke or just illiterate
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head shop features local products
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Sushi interpretations (salmon sashimi served with mango, cucumber, and black tobiko at Cosmo Restaurant)
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and alternative corn dogs exist (lobster version at Cosmo Restaurant)

It is also not like Eugene at all.

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Ghost hot sauce in a place called “the Switzerland of America,” Ouray, CO
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The Old Livery building in Silverton, CO
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Green chile and ham benedict at College Drive Café, Durango, CO.  “Red or green?” is the question one is asked at every establishment that wants to give you delicious, delicious chile sauce made with the local Hatch chiles, which look like Anaheims and taste much punchier and grassier and hotter
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Freshly gathered pinon (pine) nuts in the shell, sold on the side of the road

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Bigger buttes and artists who forge their own metal in house (and make me a copper dude’s face necklace) (above, Ouray, CO hotel and Silverton, CO enamel artist in his studio)

They filmed True Grit there, and have John Wayne’s hat at a local bar, The Outlaw (in Ouray, CO, below).  That’s pretty cool.

IMG_3524John Wayne aside, there’s a confluence of populations: Native American tribes (Navajo, Ute, Hopi and Zuni), Mexican-Americans, and white people, some hailing from Mormon traditions, some working for big oil companies, some just rich and wanting to ski. It’s an area of great historical import and racial tensions, a clash of resources, wealth and power, land use, and religion.

At the stunning cliff dwellings of ancient Puebloan tribes at Mesa Verde National Park (below), I joined about a thousand overweight American tourists marveling at the architectural might of these farming communities. Those little circular enclosures are called kivas, which do not resemble in the least our local organic food market, but if you’re interested in the origin of the term, see this fantastic write-up in a blog I wish I had studied before my trip.

We also hiked out alone to see the terraces in the hill formed a thousand years ago to catch rain water and silt run-off for growing corn, beans, and squash.

IMG_4866IMG_4881Also of note, perhaps, was the Navajo taco I ate at the park canteen.  It was not good.  I understand they usually aren’t good — fried dough with canned chili beans, processed cheese shreds, iceberg lettuce, sad tomatoes, and processed salsa with a blob of sour cream does not usually transcend the heights of culinary offerings — but I wanted to see if I could make it better with some green chiles and removing the offending lettuce and salsa.  To no avail.  The kind lady on her break from the cook line even intervened, stealing into the back to bring me more chili beans, but this one would have gravely disappointed the Anasazi.

IMG_3502The Old West nostalgia/mystique is still very much a part of the ethos, with exhibits of old liquor bottles (above) and saucy stereoscope pictures (below) and even a real mutoscope in the rather glorious old Strater Hotel in Durango.

IMG_3505And as a pushback to the wild, liberal, crazy, free-wheelin’ Durango, there’s Farmington, NM, a city that scolds its populace via signs.  It’s been a long time (maybe never?) since I’ve seen so much regulatory signage, much of it of the religious variety.  There are signs outside of churches that scare girls away from considering abortions, signs at intersections warning drivers of exactly what they’ll pay if they commit various traffic violations, signs that call readers nuts and signs that hate Obama and love Jesus.  And a sign that says Jesus.  Yes, that’s a sign:  Jesus.  Even shorter than my favorite short sentence in the New Testament: He wept. Jesus.

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Jesus is watching you in Farmington when you go into that porn store housed in a former Pizza Hut.  He is STILL watching you, says the back of this particular sign, as you exit.  I personally think he’d be of more use watching over the junk collector and the Americans, native or otherwise, living in crumbling trailers with inadequate medical care and schooling along the river, but maybe it’s better he stays out of it altogether.

IMG_4902Poverty, as you might imagine, is a huge problem, especially on the reservations that make up most of the high desert land surrounding Four Corners.  Continual tensions exist between Those With Oil and Those Without, provoking resentments in communities that have money for services and well-funded institutions and those that don’t.  Oil and gas companies own the biggest buildings in town, and community services are tied to the taxes they get from oil drilling.

Perhaps the most poignant sign I saw was that of an old movie theatre in Farmington, NM, guarded by a drunk man on the sidewalk, sprawled out in front when I stopped to take a photo. ‘Totah’ is the Navajo name for the region that encompasses Farmington, the theatre empty save for private events.  Seemed fitting, somehow, and somehow awful.

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My one regret is that we didn’t eat at the Chat An Chew [sic] on the Navajo reservation in Shiprock, NM. They served diner food, everything from green chile burgers to frito pie to “steak fingers,” which are like fried chicken nuggets but with steak.

But that Navajo taco was sitting like lead in my belly, mocking me. Jesus.

herbal cuisine

IMG_4591If there’s any one way to describe my summer cooking, it’s herbal.  I grow as many fragrant leafy things as I can, then chop and sprinkle all summer long. I wish I were a caterpillar, able to munch my way happily through my tangle of a garden — much like the little guys at work on a Taiwanese tea leaf in my header above, the image that sends the weak fleeing terrified from my blog.  (Every once in a while, I get a comment like “ohmygod, I loved your recipe until I saw the caterpillars! EWWWWWW. Now I hate it and I hate you!”  Yeah.  Don’t let a giant foot smush you as you crawl out.)

My usual summer lunch is mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil with salt and olive oil, of course — of course — but I feel the urge strongly when June hits, even if it’s so grey and chilly I make golabki.  I end up strewing summer savory, lemon thyme, and parsley over the Polish stuffed cabbage baking in the oven for two hours, because one can dream of sunnier days, right?

Or I make potstickers with chives, fennel, and parsley.

There’s plenty of tabbouli, if you want parsley, and I always want parsley.  Home-canned tuna gets parsley, chives, and savory in a salad with beans, or if fresh, grilled with charred “scallions” from culled onion tops.  When I grill a steak, my favorite topping is a gremolata, described in my screed against Steak Diane, resplendent with parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.

Gosh, what don’t I eat with fresh garden parsley?

Chicken salad gets tarragon from my miracle bush, with sprigs already three feet long and growing, or lovage, topping out around eight feet high right now. Vegetable salads like cole slaw or spring baby veg get a shower of herbs from borage and johnny-jump-up flowers and salad burnet.

Fish or potatoes can be grilled in packets with handfuls of fresh Mediterranean bay leaves (absolutely worth growing).  New potatoes and mint is an early summer ritual.

Pair cilantro with tiny Oregon pink shrimp for ceviche or with tomatoes and hot peppers in a thousand summer salsas.

Steamed rice gets a shower of shiso chiffonade, or I just fold up bits of rice in a heart-shaped entire leaf, like little fresh dolmades from Japan. Pizza? Fresh marjoram or oregano.  Grilled zucchini shares the plate with mint and pine nuts.  Blackberries get thyme and peaches get basil with rose geranium syrup.

Only raspberries shall remain untouched, I decree: those plump ruby pillows are gifts from the gods, the ones that finally smile on Oregonians in the summer.  Finally.  Lord hear my prayer.

impromptu june dinner

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All hail the food processor, who makes an impromptu summer meal something special in a flash.

I had steamed some artichokes earlier in the day, and invited friends over for razor clam pasta, which I was going to dress with razor clams, the artichoke bottoms, and breadcrumbs.  But since I was out in the garden anyway, I cleared out my garlic scapes, errant wild arugula, some ill-placed kale, and colonizing mint, which went into the food processor with olive oil, almonds, and parmesan to become a sturdy pesto sauce. I sauteed the razor clams in butter with capers and olives, then added the pesto and linguine.

The artichokes looked so tired; I thought they might want a pillow of homemade aioli, so I threw an egg yolk, salt, newly picked garlic, and mustard into the processor, then drizzled in olive and salad oil until the sauce thickened.

An arugula salad and some rosé and we were good to go.

california in a jar

IMG_3406On my way back to Eugene, I was feeling a little bitter and sorry for myself because I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do in California thanks to the funeral side trip to Michigan.  I had planned to take a longer route down, a solo road trip, that would allow me to visit colleagues and friends and explore a bit of California’s Central Valley, America’s bread basket.

The Central Valley, according to an NPR story, is “the greatest garden in the world” and reports that it produces 25% of the nation’s food.  As someone who lives in America’s former bread basket, the Willamette Valley of central Oregon, I view it with an amateur historian’s eye — fascinated and horrified by commercial farming practices that turn a fertile crescent of land into monocultures ruled by pesticides.  In particular, I was thinking of investigating a little farm or two that might be growing unusual olives to spite those black marbles we see on the grocery story shelves or those awful huge pyramid-shaped flavorless strawberries that weren’t meant for shipping.

The funeral dashed my hopes and free time, but I got lucky anyway, and stopped at a few local produce stands along highway 505 at Winters and I-5 near Williams.  And found what I was not expecting, including a nut wall made of shipping containers that separated an auto business from a popular taco truck in Winters.  (I snapped this shot while waiting for my lengua tacos for my friend John Mariani, no relation, and told him his detractors were at it again.)

IMG_3409Most notably, Royal apricots were up and running at the Double R Ranch produce stand in Winters, so a picked up half a flat with some olive oil from Knabke Farms.  I only found out later that Heath Ranch Organics in Orland grows fantastic and wonderful varieties of citrus fruits as part of a 30-some-year relationship with experimental research scientists needing a demo farm.  (That’s their gas pump and sign, above.) If I had known Ron and Melanie Heath were so cool, I would have stayed longer and asked to tour the farm, but we did have a quick chat about blood oranges and Sevilles as we snacked on the absolutely best Valencia oranges I’ve ever tasted in my life.  I managed to leave with some of those oranges, a blue star thistle honey bear, a pound of pistachios grown and roasted down the road, and a pound of red wine-marinated kalamata olives.

IMG_4653Of course, I needed to rush right home and bottle it all up.

The Québécois make a conserve called nougabricot that famed jammière, the Alsatian pastry chef Christine Ferber, has made famous.  With all due respect to my French-Canadian ancestors, I think nougabricot sounds like a mouthful of marbles, and a conserve made of apricots, almonds, pistachios, oranges, lemons, and honey is really a California thing, so I have taken the liberty to rename it:

California in a Jar

A conserve of apricots, almonds, and pistachios.  Yield 6 half pints.

  • 2.75 lbs. ripe but not overripe apricots (choose an heirloom variety like Royals or Royal Blenheims if you can)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 oz. dark honey (Ferber suggests chestnut, I used avocado honey for the California theme)
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2/3 cup shelled pistachios (unsalted or rinsed if they are salted)
  • few dashes rose water (optional)

Wash, pit, and quarter apricots.  Very large apricots should be cut in pieces.  Wash and sterilize your jars and prepare two-piece lids.

In a large pot, bring all ingredients to a simmer, then pour into a glass or stainless bowl, cover with parchment paper, as any apricots left exposed will oxidize to brown, and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, strain the solids from the liquids and place liquids in your preserving pan.  Heat the liquids until they are syrupy and reach a temperature of 220 degrees, which will allow some thickening to occur (but it will still be a loose-set product).

Add the solids to the syrup and bring to a vigorous boil, then keep at a boil for five minutes. Let sit off heat for five minutes and skim foam. Add a few dashes of rosewater if you like, and ladle product into sterilized jars.

For processing, fill to 1/4 inch from top, pressing down apricots and nuts under syrup to combat oxidization problem, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.  Between you and me, I think this one really should be kept fresh and in the refrigerator, so I didn’t process the jars.  The hot conserve “sealed” the lids after I added the product, but it is a weak seal and I must stress a refrigerator is necessary if you don’t waterbath can the jars.